As several hundred people piled in to Bayside’s St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children to celebrate the unveiling of its new pavilion, another several hundred lined up outside the hospital.
Members of the 1199-SEIU union formed a picket along 216th Street on Thursday evening to call on the hospital to settle a contract with the union and offer its workers better benefits.
“These workers are the backbone of this community,” said Mark Bergen, vice president of the union. “They are the ones who do the work every day. Not only was the staff not invited to the opening of the new facility, but St. Mary’s does not respect that we have kids too.”
Bergen said the union wants a contract that “builds retention,” contending that more than 20 percent of the registered nurses at the hospital left within the past year.
Union members also said that the hospital does not have enough staff members and that many workers do not have adequate health care coverage or benefits. 1199-SEIU filed an unfair labor practice charge against the hospital last week on the grounds that the facility’s management refused to disclose financial records amid contract negotiations.
A spokeswoman for St. Mary’s said that the union’s charge was inaccurate.
During the picket, union members held up signs reading “Bad Benefits and Bad Pensions = High Turnover” and “High Nurse Turnover Hurts the Kids.”
In a call and answer session, a union member with a bullhorn said, “Up with the kids, up with the contract, down with no pensions, down with low pay, down with CEOs.”
The union set up a concert stage where musicians played and members discussed their frustrations.
“I have for over a year sat across the table and tried to negotiate for a fair contract,” 1199-SEIU member Donna Passaro said. “They bring nothing to the table. We are the heart of this hospital. We make it run every day. We are not asking for anything more than what other hospitals give.”
City Council member Mark Weprin, D-Oakland Gardens, was among a group of elected officials who attended the hospital’s ribbon cutting ceremony for the new pavilion, which provides new rooms and equipment for its 97 young patients. But he also dropped by the union’s rally to show his support.
“I’m delighted the new building is opening, but we have to keep in mind that it’s because of the men and women who work there that makes it possible,” he said. “We have to be fair to the workers and come to an agreement.”